This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missle Crisis, a time when we skated closer to the line of nuclear war than we realized then or think about now.
I was not quite 18, a freshman at Texas Woman's University in Denton. I don't remember how my roommate and I became aware of the situation. Back then, personal televisions in dorm rooms weren't the norm. I do remember being frightened that the world would end with me almost 300 miles from my home and family. Many of the other girls were talking about going home, supposedy to die with their families. I don't know if any of them actually left school, but I didn't even call home to ask if I could come. The answer would've been 'no'.
We walked around campus with a feeling of impending doom. We were 'war babies', and we'd grown up knowing about the cold war between the communist nations, Russia in particular, and the United States. "Air raid' drills, in which we dived under our desks and covered our heads, were as common in elementary school as fire drills. Building bomb shelters became a thriving business, though most people in my hometown used them to take refuge in bad weather after the May 11, 1953, tornado, which killed 11 people and destroyed many homes in north San Angelo. We didn't have one. I doubt my parents even considered it.
But this seemed different. War could come in seconds, finding us asleep, in class, at meals, wherever. We were afraid. I was 17 and definitely not ready to die.
I remember clearly the night our 'dorm mother', Miss Lummus, made the rounds of various rooms to quell panic. She was a rather large woman, never-married, and we were afraid of her in a way that young people in those days 'feared' authority figures. But that night we welcomed her as she sat on the foot of one of the twin beds and talked to us about how, during World War II (not so long ago), she'd had to carry the tragic news of husbands, boyfriends, and brothers to students just like us. Maybe they were dead, wounded, or missing...whatever it was, she had to tell the girls. And life went on.
Maybe that's what calmed us--that life had gone on then in the face of the unthinkable, and it would go on now.
Just over a year later, President John F. Kennedy, whose cool head and steady hand had averted nuclear war, was assasinated in Dallas, Texas, only 30 miles away. Once again, we faced the unbelievable. Life went on hold for a day or two, but then life went on.
Now, 50 years later, the memories of those two events are as clear in my mind as if they'd happened yesterday. No one who didn't live through those days could understand the emotional chaos we experienced. I think of my grandchildren and hope they never experience the same terror. Then, again, it was a defining experience. Maybe I'm stronger for it, or maybe not.
But I remember how it was 50 years ago, and I don't want to go back.
Excellent story! I remember the bomb shelters even here in Utah, and had a neighbor a mile away who had built a new home and his basement was a bomb shelter. In those days we were always prepared by the school bomb drills even though we were way out west--maybe only Hill Air Force Base, some 45 miles away could be a target. Your story jogged my memory and caused me to remember one of my nicknames "Adam Bomb".
At the time, I was serving in the US Army in Germany. We were on high alert but except for the brass, we were not briefed. Our outfit was on station in the middle of a beautiful forest, doing what we had done a half dozen times before--targeting our Corporal missle at the designated target in Czechlosovokia. The presumably routine field exercise was anything but routine....but I'll try not to make it too melodramatic. Except for the fact that Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamera happened to be there, in those same woods, at the same time.